File picture: Etienne Creux/Independent Media

London – Unitl ill-health intervened, Wilf and Vera Russell had not spent so much as a night apart since they married at the end of the Second World War.

So it was somehow fitting that, after more than 70 years of marriage, the inseparable couple should die within four minutes of each other.

On Monday their family told how the great-great-grandparents were childhood sweethearts – parted only by Mr Russell’s RAF service in North Africa and Italy during the war. The retired engineer was 93 when he passed away at a care home last Wednesday at 6:50am, a year after being diagnosed with dementia.

His wife, 91, followed in hospital at 6:54am – before nurses could break the news. Mrs. Russell, a former cake shop worker, had been in Leicester Royal Infirmary since January after failing to recover from an infection.

Granddaughter Stephanie Welch, 44, told how Mrs Russell’s health started to deteriorate when her husband did not recognise her during a recent visit to see him at the home, three miles away in Wigston.

Mrs Welch said: "I went to visit her and she opened her eyes and asked me where Wilf was. The last thing she said to me was: 'We’re a right pair, aren’t we?'’. I think she was waiting for him to go. She was broken-hearted."

The devoted couple were only 16 and 18 when they met – eventually marrying on September 5, 1945, three days after the surrender of Japan.

The couple settled in West Bromwich, and went on to have three sons, five grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.

And the secret to their success? Mrs Welsh said: "Vera very much spoke for them as a couple and Wilf went along with whatever she said. Maybe that’s why they lasted so long."

"They never spent a night apart throughout their entire marriage until Wilf had to move into the care home."

The family are planning to hold a joint funeral in Great Glen, Leicestershire.